Homosexuality and Catholic Priests. (Op-Ed)

By Bullough, Vern L. | Free Inquiry, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

Homosexuality and Catholic Priests. (Op-Ed)


Bullough, Vern L., Free Inquiry


The widespread exposure of pedophilia within the Catholic clergy has led the church to focus on homosexuality within the clergy as a source of the problem. It has to be emphasized, however, that pedophilia and homosexuality are not the same thing. In fact, only a handful of priests technically are pedophiles (sexually involved with children under ten or eleven). More might be inclined to ephebophilia, an attraction to pubescent and post-pubescent youth. One reason for this higher percentage is the Catholic practice of encouraging very young boys to enter seminaries and cutting them off from normal adolescent development.

When it comes to homosexuality however, a significant percentage of clergy, perhaps as high as 40 percent, might be labeled "homophile." This percentage may be even higher among seminary graduates since the 1960s and in the seminaries themselves. I use the term homophile rather than homosexual because, even though their fantasies and attractions might be for same-sex partners, they strive to remain celibate with much the same effort as their heterophilic counterparts do.

Undoubtedly the loving, caring, supportive idealized role of the priest and the male brotherhood of which this role is a part is--and has long been--highly attractive to many homophiles. The Catholic Church has long recognized this. Throughout its history there have been periods of greater and lesser toleration. In much of the medieval period, the concern about sexuality was not about the secular clergy (those who were the priests and bishops in the secular world), since until the end of the twelfth century they were allowed to marry and have families. Rather, the issue was with the regular clergy, that is, the monks, and also the nuns, who were not clergy. They follow a special rule that has always demanded abstinence from sexual activities.

St. Benedict (c. 480-580), the founder of organized monasticism in the West, was undoubtedly conscious of the homoerotic drive among would-be monks. He stipulated that two people should be prohibited from sleeping in one bed, that lamps in the dormitory should be kept burning throughout the night, and that monks sleep with clothes on. Homoeroticism was widespread in the monastic life, as indicated by the penitentials, homoerotic poems, and other writings. The problem with monastic life was (and is) that it is very demanding and austere; it is not to be wondered that many found it difficult to maintain over the years. Often the hidden issue was same-sex relationships, but the administrative structure of the church was much too fragmented to deal with this or many other problems. It was not until the development of canon law and the extension of the power of the papal hierarchy in the eleventh and twelfth centuries that organized and centrally directed reform could take place.

There were regular denunciations of sodomists by some of the would-be reformers, the most damning by St. Peter Damian (1007-1072). And it was more or less standard practice throughout the Middle Ages to denounce suspect clergy and antipopes as sodomites. …

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